Tony Blair said on Monday that an overhaul of Britain's criminal justice system was needed to protect the public.

His call for "a profound rebalancing of the civil liberties debate" came a day after he ordered a review of the nation's human rights act amid an uproar over the handling of criminal cases by both Blair's administration and several courts.

The cases in question included the murder of a woman by a paroled rapist and a judge's decision last week not to deport a group of Afghan hijackers.

"The demands of the majority of the law-abiding community have to take precedence," Blair said.

The new get-tough attitude comes in the middle of a political crisis for Blair, who reshuffled his cabinet following disastrous local election results this month.

Blair's position has been undermined by the recent disclosure that his government released more than 1,000 foreign convicts from prison without considering them for deportation.

In a separate case, a rapist was accused of killing a woman while on parole after probation officers set him free, citing human rights concerns.

Rules

Just as that crisis appeared to ebb, a court decided that nine Afghan men who hijacked a plane to Britain in 2000 should be allowed to stay in the country as refugees - a ruling hotly disputed by Blair's government.

The Afghans said that they would be endangered by Taliban loyalists.

The ruling outraged Blair, who argued that public safety should take precedence over the rights of people who violated Britain's laws with acts such as hijacking.

He said: "I think what people want is a society without prejudice but with rules, rules that are fair, rules that we all play by, and rules that if they are broken, carry a penalty."